Chasing the Nightbird
Set in 1851 New Bedford, Massachusetts, the center of the whaling industry and a haven for fugitive slaves, Chasing the Nightbird follows plucky 14-year-old Lucky Valera, “a colored boy of Cape Verdean,” and his quest to sail with the whaling ship Nightbird. An orphan since the death of his seafaring father and an experienced sailor himself, Lucky is shanghaied before he can board the Nightbird by his hostile brother, Fernando Fortuna, who puts him to work in a textile mill. There Lucky is befriended by a runaway slave from Alabama named Daniel; together, with the help of the young daughter of a Quaker ship captain, Lucky and Daniel not only free themselves but also thwart the leaders of a slaver outfitted as a whaling ship, men who mean to kidnap fugitive slaves and sell them back into bondage.
The author’s knowledge of the whaling industry and the workings of New Bedford’s textile mills is impressive and nicely writ into the story. While I found the figurative language peppered throughout annoying – “He tried to smile but there was flotsam doing a jig in his belly” – others may not. Overall, focusing as it does on whaling, the abolitionist movement, and the antislavery Quakers of New Bedford, this is a valuable addition to children’s literature. An informative author’s note and source list are included. Ages 9-12.